COMMERCE, Calif. — Three hundred people marched to the office of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control here Sept. 18, demanding a thoroughgoing cleanup of contamination from the Exide Technologies battery recycling plant. The plant operated in Vernon from 1922 to 2015, spewing arsenic, lead and other toxic waste on working-class communities southeast of Los Angeles.
Protesters say the current cleanup is inadequate. It would remove contaminated soil from only 2,500 of the 10,000 homes near the plant. It does not cover inside of homes.
“We cannot be victims of our own state agencies. On my block, there are 19 homes. Twelve have somebody with cancer,” Joe Gonzalez, above in wheelchair, with sign reading, “Gov. Brown Where Are You,” told the rally. Gonzalez, a lifelong resident of the area, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Exide took over the lead-acid battery smelter in 2000, running it 24 hours a day. Area residents campaigned to shut it down. As evidence of the pollution mounted, company officials signed a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to pay $59 million to demolish the plant and clean it up, and the government agreed not to prosecute them. Opponents of the department’s cleanup plan have formed the Lead-Free Communities Coalition to continue the fight.